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A federal appeals court has upheld dismissal of litigation filed against a dating app that was used by a disgruntled former boyfriend to harass and stalk the plaintiff.
Wednesday’s ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in a widely publicized case, Matthew Herrick v. Grindr LLC et al., illustrates the need to update the Communications Decency Act of 1996, says a plaintiff attorney in the case.
Grindr is a web-based “hook-up” application developed by the West Hollywood, California-based firm that matches users based on their interests and location.
Mr. Herrick was the victim of a harassment campaign by his ex-boyfriend, who created profiles on Grindr to impersonate Mr. Herrick and communicate with other users in his name, directing them to Mr. Herrick’s home and workplace, according to the ruling.
Mr. Herrick filed suit in state court, which issued a temporary restraining order requiring Grindr to disable all accounts impersonating Mr. Herrick, according to the ruling.
In February 2017 Grindr removed the case to U.S. District Court in New York, which denied Mr. Herrick’s motion to extend the restraining order, concluding that each of his claims was either barred by the Communications Decency Act or failed on its merits.
The District Court granted Grindr’s motion to dismiss the case in January 2018. It was unanimously upheld by a three-judge appeals court panel in Wednesday’s ruling.
“Herrick alleges that Grindr is defectively designed and manufactured because it lacks safety features to prevent impersonating profiles and other dangerous conduct, and that Grindr wrongfully failed to remove the impersonating profiles created by his ex-boyfriend,” said the ruling.
Citing the Communications Decency Act, the ruling said: “To the extent that the claims for negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress are premised on Grindr’s allegedly inadequate response to Herricks complaints, they are barred because they seek to hold Grindr liable for its exercise of a publisher’s traditional editorial functions.”
“To the extent they are premised on Grindr’s matching and geolocation features they are likewise barred” because under the Communications Decency Act, interactive computer services “‘will not be held responsible unless it assisted in the development of what made the content unlawful’ and cannot be held liable for providing ‘neutral assistance’ in the form of tools and functionality available equally to bad actors and the app’s intended users,” said the ruling in citing an earlier opinion.
Tor B. Ekeland, of Tor Ekeland Law PLLC in Brooklyn, who represented Mr. Herrick, said as a summary order, the ruling cannot be cited as precedent in other cases.
He said the ruling highlights the need for Congress to address the 1996 Communications Decency Act. The law was intended to protect internet companies from being sued for their passive content, but it came before smart phones, apps and geolocation services that can transmit everyone’s location, he said.
“This functionality is dangerous” and is being used by domestic and sexual abusers and killers “to stalk and harm people,” Mr. Ekeland said.
This case “is not an isolated incident. It’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said.
Grindr said in a statement, “While we are sympathetic to the plaintiff’s situation, we are pleased that Grindr has been vindicated and that this matter was dismissed by the courts. Grindr has and always will be committed to creating a safe and secure environment to help our community connect and thrive.”
In 2014, a federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and reinstated a negligence claim filed against a website by a model who was raped after two men used the website to lure her to a fake audition, stating the case was not barred by the Communications Decency Act.
A negligence claim filed against a website by a model who was raped after two men used the website to lure her to a fake audition is not barred by the Communications Decency Act, says an appellate court in overturning a lower court ruling and reinstating the case.